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Fevered Sleep’s Sam Butler: ‘Our show in a shop helps us to open up a conversation about grief’

Fevered Sleep's co-founder and co-artistic director, Sam Butler

The co-founder and co-artistic director of Fevered Sleep tells Giverny Masso about the company’s latest project, which encourages people to talk about grief by inviting them into temporary shops…

What was the inspiration behind This Grief Thing?
Grief is something that had come up for us as artistic directors in our lives in quite a big way. As it does for most people, it comes out of nowhere. It often seems like something we’re unable to accept as part of our every day normal lives, which it really is. It feels as though a lot of our culture is about how happy you can appear to be, and showing other people that your experience is a happy one.

How does the show work?
You can swap the ‘w’ in ‘show’ for a ‘p’, because it’s a shop. In all our work, we try to find the most appropriate way to talk to people. If we did a show, a certain amount of people would come through the door, but we wanted to get everybody else involved. So we create temporary shops. People used to wear ‘mourning clothes’, which denoted that they were grieving. We don’t have that in Western culture any more, so you don’t know when people are grieving. The shop helps us to open up a conversation about grief during that transaction. Of course you don’t have to buy anything, and if you do, you can pay what you want. The response has been much bigger than we thought it would be. We had no idea whether anyone would come into a shop with the word “grief” in the window, but we’ve had hundreds of people through the door.

How did Fevered Sleep come about?
David Harradine [co-founder and co-artistic director] and I did a BA in performing arts at Middlesex University. After our final show there, we decided to make a thing of it. It’s quite difficult to describe what we do, because we’re like nobody else. We work across art forms and create film, dance, theatre and installations. We choose the form based on the theme.

What are some of your other recent productions?
Men and Girls Dance, for which we bought girls from the local area [in London] and male professional dancers together to make a dance piece. It’s all about the perceived problem, particularly in the media, with the idea of men and children being in a space together. When you bring these two groups together and the form is dance, it’s about exploring how valuable that can be. It’s about a collaboration of human beings. Another one is Sheep, Pig, Goat, which was commissioned as part of the Making Nature exhibition at Wellcome Collection. This was about exploring interspecies empathy and connection.

CV Sam Butler

Training: BA in performing arts, Middlesex University (1992-95)
First professional role: Feast Your Eyes, Battersea Arts Centre in London (2001)
Agent: None

This Grief Thing runs in Nottingham until March 24, with further dates to be announced. Men and Girls Dance runs at the Place in London from April 25 to 30

Men and Girls Dance review at the Place, London – ‘direct and vital’

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